Recently updated: July 7, 2020
When it comes to medical shipping and the timely transport of medical test results, it’s a bumpy road ahead in terms of speed, funding and sheer volume. Typically, Canadian medical labs will conduct more than 440 million tests and procedures each year, according to the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS). That’s an average of 12.6 lab tests for every Canadian per year. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers have skyrocketed from an unexpected tidal wave of thousands of more tests. At the end of May 2020, Canadian laboratories handled more than 150,000 COVID-19 tests a week, on top of regular testing.
From a delivery standpoint, the race is on from the moment a patient’s specimen is collected, through to transporting it to a testing facility. For Canadians to receive the necessary follow-up care, each test needs to be expedited to make its way to analysis in a timely fashion.
The amount of demand coupled with a lack of essential funding and the urgency of transportation has created roadblocks. Testing laboratories today face four main challenges in the timely delivery of patient care:
Four challenges in the timely delivery of patient care
Challenge #1: Rising volume
Even if there wasn’t a pandemic to consider, the volume of medical lab testing is going up as the population grows, with annual increases of 6% in some provinces. Lab test numbers are expected to increase substantially over the next 20 years, as the Canadian population ages. To help curb the number of unnecessary tests clogging medical labs, many Canadian doctors follow Choosing Wisely recommendations – a program that focuses on educating doctors on reducing unnecessary tests.
Challenge #2: Shrinking budgets
As demand for testing rises, so too does the pressure on labs to do more with less money. Provincial governments are clawing back, offering less public funding and private labs are facing strict monetary caps.
Challenge #3: Fewer skilled lab technicians
There is a serious shortage of lab technicians due to an ageing workforce that has not been sufficiently replaced by younger recruits. In fact, nearly 50% of CSMLS member technicians will retire within 10 years, and the growing number of vacancies is already affecting care, especially in rural areas.
Challenge #4: Late medical deliveries
Many medical samples only have a small timeframe before they become unusable, so what happens if a sample arrives late? Firstly, the sample may deteriorate, possibly leading to inaccurate results and an uncertain diagnosis. Plus, it could mean an anxious patient waiting weeks, rather than days, for the treatment they may desperately require. If it’s clearly unusable, the patient will likely need to undergo a second collection. Repeat testing not only further delays the analysis and final diagnosis, but ultimately doubles operating costs for budget-strapped medical labs across Canada.
So what are your options? What remedies can heal the health, efficiency and on-time medical shipping of your lab operations and its lab tests? Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon for medical testing facilities across Canada.
Three positive solutions making a big impact on Canada’s healthcare industry.
Solution #1: Provinces taking steps to centralize and streamline testing
Over the last few years, Provinces have recognized the need to implement new strategies to manage the strain on the healthcare sector. The main themes around their strategies are similar – centralize efforts. For example, to save on costs and resources, tasks such as laboratory testing can be performed in convenient central locations. Meanwhile, important documents such as patient history, test results and best practices can be moved onto one platform, meaning a centralized and up-to-date view for all health-related information.
- Quebec’s “Optilab” initiative will centralize all medical laboratories, transporting roughly 70% of test samples to a central testing hub.
- New Brunswick plans to consolidate its 20 laboratories into 7 centralized labs.
- Alberta has created the “Connect Care” initiative – a centralized health information system, allowing health-care providers a central access point for patient information and common clinical standards.
- In Ontario, experts provided a Healthcare Sector Supply Chain Strategy with recommendations on how to strengthen Ontario’s healthcare system and enhance patient outcomes.
Solution #2: New technologies are available to transform testing and reduce volume
When it comes to improving the speed of test results, technology can help. Many lab managers are going digital and seeing exceptional savings in time and costs. Automated systems and easy-to-implement software solutions make it simple for labs to get up and running quickly to serve their patient base. Online portals can allow patients to log in and quickly access their health records and results online. Developing efficient online portals lets patients access their test results at the earliest opportunity.
- Leading-edge automation. Automated systems now allow hundreds of samples to be processed each hour.
- Do-it-yourself testing. New “self-monitoring” home protocols for chronic patients are reducing the heavy volume of testing in labs. These include biological substances such as blood testing strips used by diabetics and anticoagulation and cholesterol monitoring kits. In-home testing kits for people with symptoms of COVID-19 can help ease hospital capacity and prevent transmissions.
- Smarter databases. Databases are tracking the movements of every specimen, providing medical labs with real-time updates on the collection, testing, analysis, reporting, storage and elimination phases. Doctors have ever-faster access to results, and in some cases, patients can log in and retrieve their own.
Solution #3: Couriers have rolled out specialized medical lab delivery practices
Despite strict collection, handling and delivery controls (which vary province to province), the success of your specimen turnaround process rests on the professional standards, experience and know-how of your shipping provider. Specialized healthcare shipping knowledge, service standards and the specifics of your pickup and delivery agreement can go a long way to saving you substantial time, money and stress.
- Better protocols. Experienced delivery companies are revising protocols in order to respond more efficiently to highly temperature- and time-sensitive biological substances deliveries.
- Specialized industry knowledge of medical shipping. Delivery companies that have taken extra steps to understand current lab challenges and the need for medical shipment integrity are becoming the shippers of choice. Smart labs demand their courier to have a proven track record of time-definite pickups from doctors’ offices, health centres or even private residences, and of seamless on-time delivery to the final destination.
- Reliance on a single courier with cross-Canada services. Many medical labs are benefiting from relying on a single trusted courier: one that can provide exceptional service Canada-wide (including in rural areas) and that ensures nothing falls through the cracks. These committed relationships are ensuring labs don’t miss a beat.
More benefits and features of an experienced carrier
- Technology-based route optimization to cut transit time
- Capability to reroute a shipment in response to weather or delays
- Transmission of accurate information throughout the transit process
- Specialized packaging to minimize in-transit damage
- Materials to ensure proper temperature control
- Expert compliance with federal and provincial regulatory mandates
It’s a serious business – experiencing fast, transformative growth. After all, lab tests are the basis for an estimated 60-70% of all medical decisions. Timely and accurate results have never been more essential – nor more challenging to deliver. Despite the many delays and influx of demand, more and more medical labs are finding solutions to shorten turnaround times with new digital innovations, cost- and time-saving provincial measures and smarter technologies. Plus, with specialized healthcare shipping solutions from experienced courier companies, lab managers are increasingly partnering with these couriers to serve their patients with timely and reliable test results.